IBM uses wiki approach to corporate training

IBM Corp. has released a social networking tool for software developers and IT professionals looking to integrate Web 2.0 functionality into their corporate training and peer-to-peer learning initiatives. But at least one industry analyst says the tool might not be ready for prime time in most enterprises.

Available as a free beta from IBM’s developerWorks, Pass It Along takes a Web 2.0 approach to knowledge sharing. Employees can navigate through a Wikipedia-like interface to add or discuss content, projects and work tutorials.

IBM said that nearly 22 million workers are set to retire in the U.S. this year. With the aging workforce posing a very real concern in Canada as well, many C-level executives are looking for new ways to transfer skills to their younger employees. The company hopes Pass It Along can give all employees a simple repository to share and gain knowledge amongst each other.

“Beyond IT professionals, the maturing workforce is being felt across the board in many companies,” Jamie Alexander, the Toronto-based chief architect of Pass It Along, said. The software’s goal, he added, is to be able to package up their knowledge and make it easily available for the entire workforce.

IBM said that the system allows for exploratory learning as thousands of users from across the enterprise – ranging anywhere from sales professions wanting to share the expertise of selling to IT professionals discussing their latest projects – can easily collaborate in one platform.

Teresita Abay-Krueger, a marketing executive with IBM’s software developer outreach program, said the concept of open communications is something that needs to be stressed among organizations

“From the point-of-view of an enterprise decision maker – especially in the government or banking industry – you need to on-board employees quickly and uniformly,” she said. Pass It Along is an effective way to give new employees a tool to understand how the company operates and the legacy systems it has, she said.

But according to Oliver Young, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc., most knowledge management systems fail to live up to their billing and are inefficiently used by most employees.

“IBM’s promise that it will help ease the transition of a retiring workforce is a hollow one,” he said. “This really requires people to think about what they want to share and declare things about how they do their job. Unless you make this part of their core job, people won’t take the steps to do this.”

Both IBM and Young agreed that learning needs to be embedded into the workflow to become effective. But while Pass It Along might still be a long way from being a full product, Young said, it provides significant advantages over the in-person collaborative approach.

“Unless you have somebody sitting there writing about everything that happens in a meeting or a working lunch, you aren’t capturing the information for the long term,” he said. “The people in the room will learn and become smarter, but that’s pretty much where it stays.”

Young added that he could see elements of Pass It Along – like many experiments that come out of IBM labs – eventually make its way into a future Web 2.0 or social networking project from Big Blue.